Tips And Tricks For Washing Your Car

The water crisis has eased, if only a little. If you’re planning on giving your car that much needed wash, you may as well do it right.
Jason Snyman
2018-06-26
The water crisis in South Africa isn’t quite over yet. Cape Town has recently been blessed with some rain and things are certainly better – but we’re a long way off from any real solutions. Alas, it’s still nice to drive a clean, polished car. So, if you’re going to be treating your car to a rare wash any time soon then you may as well do it the right way. It’s not exactly rocket science – but you’d be surprised how much damage a bad wash could do. And you don’t want that. So let’s get started.
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The Best Time To Wash Your Car

The best time to clean your car depends entirely on the season and the weather. Of course, it’s quite pointless to be cleaning your car during the rainy season or when it snows. The muddier or grimier your car gets during the cold months, the greater the risk of you accidentally scratching the paint while cleaning. Ideally, you would prepare for the winter by protecting your paintwork with a good wax or sealant to keep that grime away from the surface. This way, you could safely leave it for a few months until spring arrives. Spring is the ideal time to be doing some detailed cleaning and preparing. A good wash and full detailing once every two weeks is sufficient. Then, you do another full detail in autumn to prepare the car for the tough winter. This is essential to protecting your car, especially if it’s new. The main thing to take away from this is that it isn’t all about making your car gleam. The most important aspect is simply preparing and protecting it. Many people will choose a hot, sunny day to tackle the job – but it’s important to keep the car out of direct sunlight. Ideally, you want a nice, shady area to work in. If you’re washing the car under the blazing sun, the water and cleaners will dry up before you know it and leave awful water spots all over the paintwork. These can be really, really annoying to get rid of. It’s far better to wash your car in the morning or early evening when the sun isn’t at its peak.  

Use The Right Tool For The Job

A sponge is a sponge, right? Well, maybe if you like tiny marks and swirls scratched into your paint. Unfortunately, regular old cleaning items that we use around the house to scrub the pots, wipe the counters and dry the cutlery aren’t very good for your paintwork. Ideally, what you want is microfiber. You get great microfiber mitts and cloths, specifically designed for washing cars. Microfiber is better at lifting and trapping dirt, instead of just grinding it into your paint. It’s also a good idea to have a backup of these, and use a dedicated cloth or mitt for your wheels. This is in case you accidentally drop it and gather up a bunch of dirt from the ground, and of course, tyres are full of dirt. Rinsing it off in a bucket won’t fix the problem. Brake dust, which accumulates around your wheels, is a mixture of finely ground iron and semi-metallic particles. This gets sanded off of the discs every time you hit the brakes. It just doesn’t make any sense to ever use it on your paint. You may as well use sandpaper. When drying, microfiber is also the ideal tool for the job. Normal cotton towels are moderately abrasive and are not a safe bet. When washing this microfiber towel later, it’s also better to do so separate from other laundry, as detergents contain fragrance and softener chemicals which could leave marks on your car. It’s much wiser to wash them with fragrance-free detergent.  

Don’t Waste Water

Yes, the water crisis has eased, but that’s all the more reason to actively save water. Buying a nozzle to put on the end of your hosepipe is a great help. That way, you’re only using the water that you need and not sending it all down the street. In fact, these days using your hosepipe at all could be frowned upon and get you into a heap of trouble. Make sure that you’re up to date on your municipal laws before a neighbour calls the cops over to investigate. A hose can be pretty handy, especially for blasting out the wheel wells between the tyre and the car. Many people neglect these areas – think of it as washing behind your ears – and with a well-aimed jet blast from the hose there’s no need to scrub. For the body of the car, you probably don’t want to be setting the pressure too high. In fact, it’s far better to have the nozzle set to spray a fine mist. This is more than enough to wash and rinse, and it’s easy on the water bill. And on that note, for some inexplicable reason, people often rinse their cars off by splashing that bucket of dirty water all over it. We get it, you’re saving water, but this is a car that you’ve just cleaned and now you’re only making it dirty again. Stick to the fine spray of mist – your car will thank you.

A Checklist

Everybody has their own car wash routine, but for those who still need a little help we’ll take you through the optimal wash step by step. First, let’s go over the tools you’ll need.
  • At least two buckets – one of them for rinsing your microfiber mitt or cloth;
  • One microfiber mitt or cloth for washing the car, another for the tyres and one just for backup;
  • A wheel brush or sponge also comes in handy for scrubbing away the grime around your tyres;
  • A large microfiber towel for drying the vehicle off;
  • A hosepipe with a nozzle attachment;
  • Prewash products;
  • A good car shampoo.
So, now that you’ve got all the tools you could possibly need, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.  

The Process

So, first off, we’ve got the prewash.
  • Take the hose and spray the car off from the top down. This is to minimise the grime or dirt that you’ll be moving around when actually washing the car. This step is quick and easy, but it makes a huge difference.
Most of the time, surface damage is inflicted only because this crucial step is neglected. If you have the time, there are also a number of prewash products (such as foams) to help you loosen up the grime and lubricate the surface before you begin the wash.  When applying the foam, unlike contact washing, you start at the bottom and work your way up to ensure a continuous cover.
  • After spraying your car down during the prewash, it’s time for the actual wash. Choosing the right products or car shampoos for the job is incredibly important. Just like shampoo for your hair, many of these products have completely different ingredients.
Some of these are shampoos are designed for hardcore stain removal, giving your car that extra shine or for strengthening against the elements. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s PH-neutral, and never, ever use dishwashing liquid.
  • While many people invest in fancy buckets with grids at the bottom, there’s really no need for it. Two normal buckets work just fine. One with shampoo and water and the other with clean water for rinsing.
  • Start at the top of the car and work your way down, rinsing your mitt or cloth frequently.
All that remains of this job is for you to scrub the wheels, and then it’s time to rinse and dry. Job well done!  

Finishing Up

It’s important not to skip the drying phase. We know it’s not the most fun. You want to prevent the water marks created by leaving the car to air dry, though. These can be a real hassle to get rid of. We do this in the exact same order as the contact wash – start at the top and work your way down. There are a number of rinsing and drying products on the market to aid you with this process. These include detailing sprays and wet sealants, some of which contain glossing agents, silicones and protection layers. These products repel water and lubricate your towel to prevent surface defacement, making the drying process much easier. You simply spray the product over the car while it’s still wet and then wipe it down. Choosing the right products, whether for the prewash, the contact wash or the aftercare, can go a long way in helping you keep your car healthy.